Friday, Apr. 19, 2024

Junior Spotlight: Riders On The Rise

Three of the country’s most successful junior riders took a few minutes out of their hectic riding schedules to chat with the Chronicle about their lives in and out of the saddle.

Zazou Hoffman

PUBLISHED

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Three of the country’s most successful junior riders took a few minutes out of their hectic riding schedules to chat with the Chronicle about their lives in and out of the saddle.

Zazou Hoffman

Before Zazou Hoffman won the 2006 R.W. Ronnie Mutch Educational Foundation Scholarship, the Santa Monica, Calif., rider had never competed in a 3’6” equitation class. But winning that working student scholarship with trainer Missy Clark sent Hoffman down a blue-ribbon path that included top-10 finishes at the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, ASPCA Maclay Finals and USET Talent Search Finals—East over the past three years, and she won the ASPCA Maclay Northeast Regionals (Conn.) in 2006. This winter she added a circuit championship at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) in the medium junior jumpers aboard Sheila Burke’s Jamison to her résumé.

Age: 17  
Hometown:
Santa Monica, Calif.  
Trainers:
Missy Clark, John Brennan, Kristy McCormack and Meredith Bullock.
Divisions you compete in:
The 3’6″ equitation, junior jumpers and sometimes the junior hunters.

What horse other than you own would you most like to take a turn riding?

Having just watched the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, I would love to get the chance to sit on Shutterfly or Sapphire. Both of those horses jumped so effortlessly to clear rounds through all four rounds of the finals that you really have to wonder what that feels like.

What’s your favorite food?
I wish mangoes were in season all year long because they are just so delicious.

What’s your least favorite barn chore?

At North Run I can’t say that I particularly enjoy making feed because there are just so many horses. There isn’t really anything that I absolutely despise doing, though.

What’s your favorite thing to do in the barn?

I have a strange love of bandaging horses. Polo wraps, run-downs, standing wraps, I know it’s random but I really like wrapping horses’ legs.

What’s your favorite school subject?

Probably math, because there’s only one right answer.

What’s the best thing about being a working student?
Getting to be part of the “behind-the-scenes” part of riding that most people don’t get to experience. I love that I get to know the horses I ride on the ground. At a barn like North Run, there’s an incredibly dedicated staff that definitely does not get recognized enough. It’s really great developing relationships with them where I can learn so much.

What’s the hardest thing about being a working student?
Probably the hours and energy that goes into it. I do it because I love it and because this is how I’m making it work for me, but nonetheless it can be exhausting.

What’s your most embarrassing show ring moment?
I remember falling off my bratty little paint pony at the Santa Barbara Turkey Show (Calif.) when I was about 7 years old. Of course, I couldn’t just fall off, I had to fall off right into the biggest mud puddle in the ring. Santa Barbara was one of my first “big” shows, and I remember being so embarrassed that I had fallen off and gotten all muddy.

What would you like to be when you grow up?
I would like to be able to make a career out of show jumping and riding professionally. As a junior in high school, I will be going to college pretty soon, and I’m leaving my mind open to exploring some other interests.
 
What equestrian fashions do you like and hate?

I can’t really say I’m up-to-date on the equestrian fashions. I always try to be simple and put together.

Who is your favorite horse you’ve ever ridden and why?
I’ve had the opportunity to ride a lot of really amazing horses, but I think that Jamison is really special. He’s about 15.3 hands and is just the most-easy going horse around the barn, but he gets in the ring and does everything he can to win.

What would you consider the biggest accomplishment of your career so far?
Placing third at the Maclay Finals last fall was really incredible to me. The horse I rode, Ivy, was absolutely amazing, and it was one of those really surreal days because everything was just right on. Also, making the move up to the junior jumpers and being circuit champion in the mediums on Jamison this year at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) was fantastic!

What was your first horse like?
My first pony was this amazing little bay gelding who would just poke around at the walk and trot all day with me and my brother. His name was John Cage, named after an artist like all of the horses in our family, because my dad is an art dealer. He was the sweetest pony and only moved on to a new home when I started trying to jump and his good old bones just couldn’t handle that.

What’s on your iPod these days?
I actually don’t have an iPod, but I just saw the Beatles’ Cirque de Soleil Love show so I’m having a bit of a Beatles craze.

What’s your favorite TV show?

I really like the “Dexter” and “True Blood.”

What’s your favorite website?
Well I love The Chronicle of the Horse website (www.chronofhorse.com), especially the Forums (www.chronicleforums.com), but I also spend a lot of time on Phelps Sports (www.phelpssports.com).

When was your worst ever round, and why?
My worst round ever was probably my gymnastics phase at the USET finals the first year I did it. I absolutely bombed it, and I remember just being mortified because George Morris was judging. Fortunately, I learned a lot from that experience and came back to get a good ribbon the next year.

How often do you polish your boots?

I polish my boots almost every day when I’m consistently showing. When I’m not showing I just clean them on a regular basis.

What’s your favorite book or magazine?

Honestly, I’m not a big reader, but like most other teenagers in America right now I loved the Twilight series.

Are there any other horse sports you’d like to try?
Polo looks pretty terrifying, but if I could ever build up the courage I would love to try it.

What’s your favorite horse show?

I have to say that I really enjoyed getting to spend the whole circuit at the WEF this year. I also like some of the more low-key horse shows like the Vermont Summer Festival, Saratoga (N.Y), and the Menlo Charity Horse Show (Calif.).

When was your all-time best trip?

I think my best all-time trip was in this year’s George Morris Equitation Classic. I rode Catwoman, and it was just one of those rounds where everything really came together. I had the pleasure of riding her all circuit at WEF, but everything really just clicked in the first round of that class. I unfortunately was not my best in the second round, but I was so pleased with the first one that it really didn’t bother me too much.

What’s your favorite horse show food?

Horse show food is normally not that great, but I do love the classic grilled cheese that all horse shows have. Also, at the Vermont Summer Festival there are great sweet potato fries that are hard to resist.

What equestrian do you most look up to?

I really admire the impact that Missy Clark and John Brennan have had on the sport. They have been successful in developing both horses and riders. I also have a great appreciation for the “unsung heroes” like Meredith Bullock with whom I train when I’m in California. As a school teacher and a riding instructor, she’s really contributed a lot to the sport and hasn’t gotten nearly enough recognition for it.
 
What non-equestrian do you most look up to?

I am a huge Obama fan. I just think that he’s really helping turn the world around by repairing international relations and making improvements in the States.

What do you hope to do after you finish riding as a junior?
I will be going to college, but I would like to continue riding. I think that a good education is really important, and I know that the horses will always be here so if getting a good education means taking some time off riding then I guess that’s what I’ll do. Hopefully, there will be a way to do both, though!


Lillie Keenan

Lillie Keenan made a name for herself at the 2007 USEF Pony Finals (Ky.) when she captured all three regular pony hunter tricolors, then cemented her reputation as a pony-riding prodigy the following year when she returned to capture five of the six championships. At 12 years old she’s competing on full-sized mounts, although she still makes a guest appearance in the pony ring from time to time.

Age:
12      
Hometown: New York, N.Y.      
Trainers: Andre Dignelli, Patricia Griffith and Kirsten Coe.
Divisions you compete in: Junior hunters, equitation (USEF Medal, Maclay, USET Talent Search and Washington International Equitation Classic), children’s jumpers and sometimes pony hunters.

What was your first horse like?
Aspen Spring, we called her Flora, was a small gray pony, and when I got her she had a huge ribbon tied around her neck. She taught me about falling off and getting right back on.

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When was your all-time best trip?
2007 Pony Finals in the large pony hunters on Vanity Fair.

Do you have any good luck charms or habits that you stick to before a show?
Yes, but they are secrets.

What’s your favorite book or magazine?
The Chronicle of the Horse, Equestrian, Elle and (Lisi Harrison’s) Clique novels.

What’s your favorite website?

www.YouTube.com.

What’s on your iPod these days?
Everything that you would hear on XM Top 20 on 20.

Who is your favorite horse you’ve ever ridden and why?

Chloé, because I know I will always land safely on the other side of the fence.

What’s your least favorite barn chore?
Sweeping the floor.

What’s your favorite thing to do in the barn?

Horseless horse shows, playing with dogs and grazing the horses with friends.

What do you miss most about riding lots of ponies?

Having so many chances in the ring.

What advice do you have for kids who want to do well in the pony hunters?
Watch and learn from everybody who goes in the ring.

What’s your favorite school subject?

Science.

What’s would you consider the biggest accomplishment of your career so far?
Feeling confident when I enter the show ring.

What’s your favorite food?
Bagel Bites.

What goals do you have for your riding career?
To eventually go to the Olympic Trials.

What equestrian do you most look up to?
My trainers.

What non-equestrian do you most look up to?
My mom.

Are there any other horse sports you’d like to try?
I might want to try reining.

What’s your favorite TV show?
“Wizards of Waverley Place”.

What horse that’s not yours would you most like to take a turn riding?
Sapphire, but who wouldn’t?

What would you like to be when you grow up?
I would love to teach riding.

What’s your favorite horse show?
Devon (Pa.).

What’s your most embarrassing show ring moment?
Getting jumped loose and landing with my stick caught under my leg.


Mavis Spencer

In 2008, Mavis Spencer was a force to be reckoned with in junior jumper rings on both coasts. Aboard her remarkable Winia Van’t Vennehof, Spencer earned team and individual silver medals in the Adequan/USEF Prix des States Junior Jumper Championships and took home the William C. Steinkraus Style of Riding Award at the Pennsylvania National. She went on to win the high junior/amateur-owner championship and the $25,000 junior/amateur-owner classic three weeks later at the Sacramento International (Calif.). On the heels of her fantastic season, she was selected to travel to the Australia Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney, where she helped the U.S. team finish fourth.

Age: 17   
Hometown: Santa Monica, Calif.   
Trainers: Dick Carvin and Susie Schroer.
Divisions you compete in: High junior jumpers.

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When was your worst ever round, and why?
I’ve had lots of bad rounds, but the worst was last year at Showpark (Calif.). I’d fallen off the week before and dislocated my shoulder and cracked my collar bone, but my doctor told me I could still ride assuming I wouldn’t fall off again. In the jump-off of the classic on Sunday, I was galloping to the last jump and tried to leave a stride out. My horse somehow managed to stay on her feet, but I fell off and landed straight on my collarbone. I knew instantly I’d broken it, and all I could do was lay there and wait for someone to come help me up. I ended up being taken to the hospital and not being able to finish showing. I couldn’t ride for three weeks; it was torture.

What’s your least favorite barn chore?
Cleaning stalls bedded with straw!

What’s your favorite thing to do in the barn?
Sweeping! I find it really relaxing at the end of a long day.

Do you have any aspirations to follow in the footsteps of your mother (Golden Globe- and Emmy Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard) and pursue acting?
I took acting classes in school, but I’d rather wake up early and ride than wake up and go on camera. My mom is also very happy with the path I’ve chosen and doesn’t pressure me to follow in her footsteps.

What’s on your iPod these days?
”Starstruck“ by Lady Gaga and ”Breakeven“ by The Script are my top two right now, but I listen to lots of different music. I’m just not really a country person to be honest.

When was your all-time best trip?
I was able to spend seven weeks this past summer in Belgium working for Neil Jones. I worked long days but got to ride some of the most amazing horses. I gained a lot of experience riding really young horses and was able to take them and a few others to some shows. He trusted me 100 percent, and I cannot thank him enough for everything I learned while I was there.

What’s your favorite website?
After this year I can tell you my least favorite is www.commonapp.org.

How often do you polish your boots?
I try to clean them after I ride and polish them before I show.

What equestrian do you most look up to?
Francie Steinwedell-Carvin.

What non-equestrian do you most look up to?
My mother.

What’s one thing that people don’t know about you that you think would surprise them?
A lot of people think I’m very calm before I show because I’m quiet, but it’s actually because I get so nervous I have trouble breathing.

What was your first horse like?
His name was Cruise Control; we called him Norton. He was a really mean pony and threw me off a couple times a week. I spent more time in the emergency room than I did at the barn those days.

Do you have any good luck charms or habits that you stick to before a show?

I have a Tiffany necklace that I never take off and a bunch of bracelets. I get really nervous before I show, so I usually listen to my iPod and try to chill out.

What’s your favorite food?

In-N-Out Hamburgers.

What was the best part of your trip to Australia?
The best part of the whole trip was the friends I made while I was there. The kids who owned the horses we showed were our grooms, and their families were there the whole time cheering us on. We also made good friends with the British team and spent a couple nights at their house playing poker. One night we all wandered around Olympic village and traded shirts and pins, pretty much anything we had with other athletes. Everyone was super friendly, and we enjoyed having a laugh at everyone’s accents.
   
What’s your favorite school subject?
English.

What do you hope to do after you finish riding as a junior?
I’m taking a year off before college, and hopefully I’ll find a grand prix rider to work for and learn from.

What’s your most embarrassing show ring moment?
It was my first year doing the big equitation at indoors. I had been called back for the second round of the Monarch [at Capital Challenge (Md.)], and I came back first. I was galloping to the first jump and nothing was showing up. Needless to say I chipped gloriously!

What would you consider the biggest accomplishment of your career so far?
Winning the silver medal on the team and individually at Harrisburg and also being awarded the William C. Steinkraus Style of Riding Award.

What horse that’s not yours would you most like to take a turn riding?
Steve Guerdat’s horse Tresor V.

Who is your favorite horse you’ve ever ridden and why?

My horse Winia is amazing. I bought her as a 6-year-old in Europe, and she had never shown before. Three years later we won the silver medal individually at Harrisburg. She was fast and careful and tried her heart out. In many ways we grew up together. We knew each other inside and out, and it was very comforting walking into the big classes knowing that we trusted each other 100 percent.

What’s your favorite horse show?
Spruce Meadows (Alta.) or the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) but the Beervelde Horse Show in Belgium is amazing too.

What’s your favorite book or magazine?
Anything Shakespeare.

What’s your favorite TV show?

“House” or “Grey’s Anatomy”

Are there any other horse sports you’d like to try?   

Cross-country or polo.

What goals do you have for your riding career?
I hope to turn professional one day and show on the international level.

Mollie Bailey

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